Goa’s safer than Milan for independent women to work and live in, one of the foreigners interviewed by this newspaper said recently. There are currently over 3,500 foreigners living here, some of them running businesses, others who have quite simply retired into a traditional way of Goan village life or been drawn to acquiring and restoring an old-world house. So long as there is no attempt to ghettoize parts of Goa as the Israelis have done in Ozrant and the Russians in Morjim with deplorable racial overtones, Goa would stand to gain hugely if it were to encourage foreign retirees to settle here.
For one, they’re far less likely to get into the edgy side of the Goan night-life-party-narcotics scene. They also have more money to plough into the local economy than do the young backpackers and the beer louts. Malta, Cyprus and more recently Sri Lanka offer a special long-term visa to attract foreign retirees. India has no such retirement visa facility, though a move in that direction would be good for Goa.
Over 2.7 million tourists travelled to Goa last year, almost twice the state’s population of 1.45 million. The breakup of arrivals is telling. Nearly 85 per cent of current arrivals to Goa are domestic, and that figure of 22 lakh Indian tourists is likely to go up in the coming years ~ or possibly months ~ as tourism officials proudly trot out the figures. The Goan holiday is the dream of every other Indian who can afford a bus or train ticket from Surat or Haryana or even Bihar. For the sexually deprived middleclass Indian male, Anjuna and Baga are voyeurs’ paradise to ogle at tanned bodies or to sink into an IMFL-induced coma. We’re India’s only party destination, and now perhaps a casino destination. But where exactly are we headed?
Is it just about toting up the numbers or do we have a plan that will look at the state’s carrying capacity and environmental sustainability?
Like the mining business, Goa’s tourism industry has flourished with little control, checks or long-term vision for infrastructure and sustainability. Every year just a minor matter such as how many beach shacks and deck chairs will be licensed for the season becomes a major issue. After being confronted with a protest by the Shack Owners’ Welfare Society on Monday, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has promised to come up with a shack policy later this week.
Though shacks have become a popular part of beach life in Goa, the government would do well to keep in mind that a large number of them ~ so too restaurants on the coast ~ are sub-contracted to ‘outsiders’ and even foreigners on tourist visas to run and the authorities have done nothing to monitor these. In Canacona’s Patnem and Palolem beaches last season, beach shacks had been set up on concrete plinths in brazen violation of CRZ regulations and rocks had been defaced with grotesque oil painted graffiti.
Till a few years ago, Patnem was a completely untouched seaside hamlet. The overspill from Palolem has turned this little South Goa village enclave into a full-blown tourism hub with clusters of small beach camps with cabins on rent offering yoga in the morning and dining by candlelight on the beach at night. Clustered around the small bay are also massive bungalows of new settlers, some of them from as far off as Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. And Patnem is 75 km away from Panjim by road. All this is fine so long as it helps a small village sustain itself from the spillover of visitors.
But a short walk to the beach through a still undeveloped sandy expanse exposes mounds of discarded plastic water bottles and other waste. Garbage is obviously low priority with this local panchayat as it is with the others and the state government. Cleanliness is a basic priority of any world-class tourist destination. But more than half a century after the Liberation we’re still struggling to cope with our garbage problem, and it shows embarrassingly all over Goa.